Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

The Global State of Workers' Rights - Ethiopia

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 31 August 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Ethiopia, 31 August 2010, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Most workers in Ethiopia have the legal right to form and join unions, and approximately 300,000 people have union membership. Ethiopia has ratified the two key International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions that guarantee freedom of association and the rights to organize and bargain collectively. However, under the 2003 Labor Proclamation, teachers, civil servants, the military, and the police are denied these rights. Approximately two-thirds of union members belong to organizations affiliated with the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), which is under the influence of the government. Non-CETU-affiliated organizations face harassment. In 2008, after a 15-year legal fight, the independent Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA) was forced to close and give up its name and assets to a government-sanctioned union of the same name. Former ETA members tried to set up a new organization, the National Teachers' Association, but the government refused to register it. The ILO Committee on the Application of Standards criticized this decision and demanded a detailed response from the government about persistent allegations that trade union activists had been mistreated.

The right to strike is protected by law, but rigid and complicated procedures make it difficult for workers to engage in strike actions in practice. Strikes by workers who provide "essential services" are banned. There has not been a legal strike since 1993.

Collective bargaining is permitted in theory and in practice for most workers. However, a 2006 regulation effectively places a three-month time limit on amending a collective agreement. The law protects union members from harassment, but unions claim that their activists are routinely fired by their employers. Some companies promote the creation of unions that are favorable to their interests. Lawsuits over unlawful dismissals take many years to work their way through the court system.

There is no minimum wage, and working conditions are poor, particularly in rural communities. The recent practice of leasing land to foreign governments for agricultural development has created a new class of farm workers whose rights are poorly defined and who are vulnerable to abuse. The law prohibits forced labor, but in reality the courts use it as a sentencing option. Forced child labor is a significant problem, particularly in the agricultural sector. Children are exploited to work as prostitutes or domestic servants in some urban areas.

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